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Holly Swanson: State Patty’s Day and My Ride-Along with Centre LifeLink

by on February 27, 2013 8:37 AM

I recently had the pleasure of doing two ride-alongs with the Centre LifeLink EMS team. Their job is to stabilize patients, check their vitals, learn the patient’s medical history and any other relevant information, like recent falls or how much a patient had to drink. They relay all of that information to Mount Nittany Medical Center so doctors know what to expect. My job was to be quiet and stay out of their way.

There is no appropriate job description that can explain everything they do. In addition to the above list, they are forced to become part-psychologists, part-parents, all while navigating a large vehicle through State College’s narrow streets. Honestly, these guys and gals deserve a lot more recognition than they get. Many of them are volunteers—they spend large chunks of their time helping to take care of other people and they do it for free.

And they have to be ready for anything. In one shift, we answered calls for a bad cut on the head, a sports injury, a man with difficulty breathing at one of the assisted living facilities, and two students who were, shall we say, “overserved.”

Our first public intoxication was 'Lou'. He’d been found wandering through traffic with his pants down. The crew, with help from the State College police, loaded Lou into the ambulance. I don’t think we had even gone a quarter mile yet when Lou showed me how the ambulance earned the nickname “The Vomit Comet.” You don’t know what a bad smell truly is until you’ve sat in close quarters with large amounts of second-hand Vladdy (which is a vodka...I had to ask) and whatever else Lou put in his stomach earlier that day. He was sleeping when we got him to the Emergency Department.

Then there was sweet 'Emily'. She looked lovely, but not too made up. Stylish clothing. She wasn’t sick, but she couldn’t walk and her friends were in no condition to take care of her, so she also got a ride to Mount Nittany Med. To casually watch her, you might not even know she was drunk, but she gave herself away when she tried to smoke her lip gloss like a cigarette.

She answered every question and command with “It’s fine, I’m fine.” It became her mantra. She was sorry for causing problems...she started crying. And then, out of nowhere, she started swinging at the EMT. Dear Emily weighed about 12 pounds, the EMT considerably more, so there was no danger of him actually getting hurt. But it does happen. I was told that it’s not unusual to file charges against the patient if they start to punch or kick. Emily would get off easy, though. She got yelled at, which made her cry more, but the EMT didn’t bother pressing charges.

On my State Patty’s Day ride, we only had one intoxication call during my short time, which was good because there are actual sick people in town. We transported two other people, who definitely did need the services of the hospital.

So, go ahead, get drunk, but know your limit and don’t bother anyone else. These guys and gals at Centre LifeLink are well-equipped to strap you to a bed and hand you a plastic bag to throw up in. But then you are going to stay overnight at the hospital and take a bed that someone else might need. The health care providers would all prefer to take care of actual sick people, instead of babysitting drunks.

Speaking of State Patty’s Day...congratulations to the Borough for successfully putting a damper on this year’s “holiday.” My second ride with Centre LifeLink was on Saturday night and I was surprised to see how barren the streets were. I didn’t really think that closing the bars would be a good idea so I assumed everyone would just drink in their apartments, which they did. The real difference, though, is that they had nowhere else to go, so when they got drunk in their apartments, they stayed there instead instead of wandering Downtown and getting themselves into trouble.

But is that a long-term solution? Do we keep paying off the bars each year? What if the students pick a second date or decide to party that much more on the real St. Patrick’s Day?

There might be opportunity to turn this into a moneymaker and advertise it to alums, almost like a spring semester homecoming. Hotels would get booked far in advance by the alumni. Soon there wouldn’t be room or reason for the underages from the far ends of the state to visit Happy Valley.

A lot of the most popular spring break destinations fought it the first few years, too, until they found a way to take control of it and enforce their own priorities.

Just an idea for when we run out of money to shut down the bars.

Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at
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